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In the second series of his original UK BAFTA and International Emmy honored Kitchen Nightmares, the 16-time Michelin star awarded culinary whirlwind Gordon Ramsay states that, "a chef without confidence is like a car without wheels."
Confidence isn't exactly something that the profanity spouting, a little too happily shirtless (and in one case pantless) Ramsay needs to worry about whether it's in this series, his internationally revered restaurants, or numerous other television shows, cookbooks and tie-ins. Basically, Gordon Ramsay is the foodie version of Marlon Brando. Famously infamous, rebellious and in-your-face-- while the first series of Nightmares prompted me to keep a "shirtless" tally this time around as the spiky blonde haired chef enjoys pulling a Jason Statham for the camera at least one time per episode (to the point where it's part of the intro to his series The F Word), shortly into this thoroughly compelling ten episode follow-up I realized I should've tallied his newest indulgence.
While Ramsay's profanity is legendary as a one man version of a Martin Scorsese movie-- dropping f-bombs left and right regardless of whether there's a child or an old lady within three feet-- when the vastly entertaining second series picks up, we realize that Ramsay has gotten far more elaborate and creative with his curses. Although it's most likely to keep things interesting and try to avoid copy-cats or comedic impressions, Ramsay reaches an all-time low or high (depending on your linguistic taste and tolerance) with the sheer number of references he makes to ahem-- male "equipment"-- as opposed to culinary equipment that it seems to be his latest obsession.
Whether encouraging men and women alike to find their own, strap on a pair, or reach down deep to make the best use of their "equipment" which he never fails to discuss complete with size and way too much detail, Ramsay's tendency to pose unnecessarily shirtless is quickly forgotten as he gets into a thorough "equipment" discussion in the very first episode.
Despite being more than $180,000 in debt and having been unable to sleep for four months (which probably isn't helped by his five Red Bull a day habit), Ramsay is quick to put the chef of Lanterna in his place when he discovers that the man has purchased a super expensive sports car with the license plate of "A1Chef." And very appropriately, Ramsay dubs the purchase "a penis extension" and as such, he's unable to sell the vanity plate to any other top cook. Yet, this particular plate isn't as worrisome as the plates inside Lanterna. Going into full-on boss mode, he simultaneously tries to get the chef/proprietor who moves quickly but does little true cooking--aside from reheating prepared packaged food-- to serve Italian cuisine that won't offend a real Italian before the health inspector closes the place down.
And it's precisely given the strength of episodes like this one that sets Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares head and shoulders above most reality television, since despite the fact we're always aware that Ramsay is the star and relishes every minute of it, he truly wants to use his food wizardry and chef superpowers for good. With the constant but vital reminder that individuals shouldn't assume they can become great chefs or restaurant managers just because they've eaten dinner in a restaurant, we realize just how extremely difficult it is to make these risky business ventures successful.
While of course, the bottom line is that the food needs to be top-notch and cleanliness is a must since a case of food poisoning can shut down the establishment instantly, throughout Kitchen Nightmares, Ramsay and his new rotation of weekly proteges have to deal with all aspects of the industry. By reminding restaurateurs not to run before they can walk, he frequently cuts down overcomplicated menus that are far too expensive, hard for the chef to prepare during a busy time by juggling so many options, and preaches the merits of fresh local produce to offer flavorful yet simple dishes.
Yet in a few episodes of this season, the nightmare isn't in the kitchen since shockingly the food is wonderful, aside from staff who arrive whenever they feel like it or whenever they can get a babysitter. So to get the word out, Ramsay and the individuals we encounter do everything from using their own shoe leather to chat up locals by enticing them with samples to redecorating one place that's way too stuffy and changing the name of another so that it doesn't look or sound like-- as Ramsay notes-- a strip club.
While often the problem of a kitchen seems to be in its inability to change with the trends as Ramsay is caught in a '70s time-warp or visits one place he likens to Fawlty Towers since there's so many managers that literally nobody has a clue who's running the place, I was especially drawn in by episodes that dealt with the psychological nature of working in a kitchen. Due to the intense pressure, unique personality style and demands it places on those running a kitchen, you understand why Ramsay has to be as confrontational and confident as he is throughout. For, as I watched this series in particular I realized that along with the staggering numbers of restaurants that go out of business, the one issue we seldom analyze is the high burn-out factor of such a life-consuming job that one can liken to doctors, teachers, cops, etc.
Facing the industry's biggest problems of drug and alcohol abuse, Ramsay meets staffers who drink on the job and spend a whopping $2,000 in the bar every month (essentially creating a codependent and unhealthy atmosphere where the employers rely on their alcoholic intake to stay afloat), one cook who collapses and ends up in the E.R. as well as chefs who flat-out are unable to cook items as simply as a casserole and/or have lost their motivation completely.
Whether he's getting into a shouting match with an unqualified chef, trying to make owners face reality that a good reputation thirty years ago doesn't mean the restaurant still has one today, trying to out moonwalk a cook or conquer his irrational fear of dancing in public, Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares is heartrending, pulse-pounding, nerve-wracking, yet surprisingly seasoned with human comedy and touching moments on par with the most by-the-numbers big studio underdog sports movies.
Additionally it's sprinkled with breathtaking scenic views of the English, Scottish, and Irish landscapes that make it a feast for one's eyes more than one's mouth since so much of the food in the Nightmares portion overpowers its enticement...and Americans generally don't line up for oxtail. Overall, Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares: Series 2 is richer and more compelling than the extraordinarily impressive Series 1 thanks to its wonderful concept, and true drama in situations that you wouldn't have believed if they'd been cooked up by TV executives.
And by following his own advice referenced at the start of the review, due to the supreme confidence of the chef who may encounter speed bumps but always utilizes his charisma, and downright cockiness (a word that couldn't be more fitting due to his oral fixation this season), Ramsay ensures that this highly recommended show never loses its four tires and always stays on the road. So get your "equipment" checked and settle in for a heaping helping of Kitchen Nightmares sure to make you think twice about just what's going on behind the swinging doors next time you visit a restaurant.
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